Help­ing mums in jail con­nect with kids


Mums in prison anx­ious about con­nect­ing with their chil­dren are be­ing vol­un­tar­ily helped by some of Welling­ton’s top fe­male lawyers.

About 40 com­mer­cial lawyers from var­i­ous firms have been help­ing women in Tawa’s Aro­hata Prison through the Moth­ers Project, which aims to help moth­ers main­tain mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ships with their chil­dren of­ten through fam­ily con­nec­tions or gov­ern­ment agen­cies.

On April 7, the group led by 2015 Lawyer of the Year Stacey Shor­tall held their third monthly ses­sion. They have helped more than 30 women at the prison since they started in Fe­bru­ary.

One pris­oner, who said she was a full­time mum be­fore go­ing to prison, was find­ing it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to be away from her chil­dren so she was work­ing with the group to en­sure they could visit.

‘‘Be­fore I came here, all I knew was to be a mum. And to go from be­ing a mum to not hav­ing my chil­dren with me is so hard.

‘‘It’s just the cud­dles. And when they’re up­set, I can’t just go and give them a cud­dle, or if they stub a toe I’m not there for them.’’

The ser­vice was started at the Auck­land Re­gion Women’s Cor­rec­tions Fa­cil­ity and, af­ter be­ing im­ple­mented at Aro­hata, could be in Christchurch Women’s Prison by the end of the year.

Stacey Shor­tall and her team speak to the moth­ers to help them un­der­stand their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and rights as par­ents.

‘‘I have a lot of sym­pa­thy for [the pris­oner] and her chil­dren be­cause of the im­pact of not be­ing with their mum. What she is try­ing to do is be as present and avail­able for her chil­dren as she can be.

‘‘She’s try­ing to make calls and reach out to peo­ple, which is so hard when you’re be­hind bars.’’

The fe­male prison pop­u­la­tion na­tion­ally has grown faster than ex­pected, with some pris­on­ers be­ing tem­porar­ily kept in the Aro­hata Up­per Jail lo­cated near Rimu­taka Prison, while Aro­hata’s Tawa site is ex­panded.

In­ter­ven­tion co-or­di­na­tor Tracey Wer­nicki said while pris­on­ers were still as­signed a case man­ager who was there to steer them through their time in prison, the vol­un­teers of­fered ex­tra sup­port.

’’Main­tain­ing pos­i­tive fam­ily con­nec­tions can help the fam­i­lies when [pris­on­ers] are re­leased. The re­la­tion­ship with their kids can help them stop re-of­fend­ing.’’

Lawyer Stacey Shor­tall and her team have helped about 30 mums in Aro­hata Prison since Fe­bru­ary.

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